Wildfires cause shutdown of some Oregon Lottery games

2020 continues to challenge the lottery and gaming industry

By Kate Northrop

PORTLAND, Ore. — 2020 just doesn’t seem to let up, with wildfires in Oregon causing 115 of the state’s lottery retailers to lose connection to the fiber-optic cables that support the selling of most lottery games.

Over the weekend, 95 retailers in the Portland area and 25 on the coast were rendered unable to sell any video lottery games, Keno, and traditional draw games like Mega Millions and Powerball. Only instant scratch-off games could be sold by the retailers.

According to the Oregon Lottery, fires damaged the fiber-optic cables that allow the retailers to sell tickets.

“The equipment that [our retailers] use has a dedicated circuit that it uses to exchange information between the retailer and the central lottery system,” Matthew Shelby, Public Information Manager at the Oregon Lottery explained to Lottery Post staff. “Anything that relies on that network is not going to be available if the connection isn’t there.”

The cables are operated by CenturyLink, a telecommunications company and internet provider. Since the onset of the problem, they have been working to get the cables back online and functioning again. As of 8 am today, the connection for all 25 retailers on the coast and 64 of the 95 retailers in the Portland area has been reestablished.

According to the Oregon Lottery, the affected retailers make up a small percentage of the total retailer network, which amounts to about 4,000. Although it seems like a drop in the bucket for the Lottery, it’s detrimental for individual businesses.

“It’s a major impact on the retailers,” Shelby said. “The support we can offer is to be as transparent and upfront with them as we can. We don’t have control over CenturyLink’s fiber-optic connections, but we can share with them any information we have as soon as we get it.”

The businesses impacted by the blackout include restaurants, bars, delis, and convenience stores. Considering the economic pressures of the pandemic, strains on business owners, particularly of bars and restaurants, are only compounded by the issue. Jon Batcheller, the owner of Mock Crest Tavern and Greeley Avenue Bar and Grill in North Portland, said that the shutdown of most lottery games cost him some hundreds of dollars in revenue a day.

“With my 70% reduction in food and beverage sales compared to pre-COVID, the lottery dollars and the food and beverage sales they bring in are very important to our survival and ability to pay employees,” Batcheller said.

Lottery players facing at outage at their local lottery retailer can quickly find other nearby lottery retailers using the free Lottery Places app, available for both Android and iPhone. The handy app can instantly find lottery retailers in any state in the USA, as well as many other parts of the world.

Through all the challenges with COVID-19 and the wildfires, the Lottery’s sales are running about 9% under compared to the same time last year.

“Given all of our challenges right now, I think that’s a pretty good place to be in,” Shelby said.

While CenturyLink continues to work on bringing the remaining cables back online, the Lottery said that it is focused on keeping the communications line open between the Lottery and those affected by the wildfires so that they can plan to the best of their abilities.

Shelby praised the resilience of the Lottery’s retailer network: “People don’t buy lottery products from the Lottery directly; they buy lottery products through our retailers, and they’re a critical component. We’ve seen that this year with COVID. We saw it last week with wildfires. 2020 is proving to be a challenging year, but it is good to see the retailers’ resiliency and the Lottery staff’s dedication to those retailers being successful.”

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